This super-sedan was once the fastest Mercedes-Benz with four doors. Unsurprisingly, it comes from the tuners who brought us "The Hammer"—an earlier E-Class (a W124) that used to be the fastest sedan in the world.
People often think of the S-Class as being the archetypal Mercedes-Benz. All that luxury and space. But it could be argued that the most consistently exciting car the company makes is the E-Class. New generations often come with fresh technology that eventually finds its way into the rest of the lineup. It seems to be further out on the cutting edge. And even though there are some excellent AMG versions of the S-Class, the smaller E-Class seems to be just the right size to encompass practicality along with Autobahn-ruling power and corner-crushing athleticism.
AMG started out in the quiet town of Affalterbach as an independent tuning house, a two-man operation that specialized in Mercedes-Benz cars and competed (successfully) in the German touring cars series (DTM). It came under the Mercedes-Benz corporate wing in 1999. By that time, though, it had established a practice of "one man, one engine." Each motor is hand-assembled by one technician, who applies a signed plaque at the end of the process.
This E55 AMG is a product of the W211 generation of E-Class. It uses a 5,439cc, 24-valve V-8 (engine code M113), and nestled in the V is a Lysholm-type (twin-screw) supercharger from IHI (a Japanese company and, incidentally, the same brand of blower that's in the crazy Dodge Challenger Hellcat). It makes 475 hp (a lot of sources quote 469 brake horsepower, which converts to 475 horses) and 520 lb-ft of torque. We're more familiar with high engine output figures these days as technology progresses, but anything in the region of 500 hp and 500 lb-ft is usually enough power for anyone.
The supercharger has two interlocking Teflon-coated aluminum shafts that spin up to 23,000 rpm. Peak torque chimes in at 2,650 rpm, so that's quite a kick from a relatively low engine speed. This car comes from the era when most high-torque AMG models had tough-as-nails five-speed automatic transmissions. This was back in the days when companies didn't have to cram in loads of ratios in an effort to keep consumption and emissions quite so much in check. Only the rear wheels are driven and the car uses an open differential. Like the gearbox, it's comparatively simple, extremely effective, and pretty tough.
There are plenty of other details to enjoy in the E55 AMG, such as a sport exhaust, gearshift buttons on the steering wheel, and an AMG-tuned air suspension based on the excellent bones of a double wishbone setup at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. The front seats also have active inflatable side bolsters; this must be one of the first cars to have such a feature.
Sprinting from standstill to 60 mph takes just 4.6 seconds, which remains impressive today. Keep on the throttle and 100 mph sweeps by in 10.4 seconds, on the way to 150 mph in 24.4 seconds. The whole recipe is a feast for the senses. It's arguably good looking, rides like a dream, accelerates as if it isn't so affected by physical laws as the rest of us (accompanied by a subtle supercharger whoosh), and when it does have to stop, it has sturdy Brembo brakes to rely on (six-piston calipers up front, four-piston calipers at the rear and slotted rotors at each corner). Rivals at the time—like the BMW M5 and Jaguar S-Type R—are also highly entertaining rides, but the E55 has the edge. It's a five-star car.
So buy one. This generation of E55 was only on the new-car market for three years, but there are some for sale. We found a high-mileage (173,000) 2006 model going for $10,000 and some examples going for $20,000. Blue-book values for a 2006 example in good condition with 100,000 miles is $10,230. So a budget of $15,000 should be cool. A comparable BMW M5 is valued at $15,353, and we've seen listings with generally higher prices. It does have a wonderful V-10 engine, but the E55 looks even more tempting.
If a potential purchase has the original alloy wheels (and please let that be the case), their condition will be a good indication of how well the owner has been looking after the car.
Components in the harmonic balancer pulley might come apart, which could then come into contact with the timing cover and be catastrophic for the engine. It should be inspected at every service.
The pump for the air suspension has failed for some owners. Look for oil leaks caused by perished seals. And then there's our old nemesis, ferric oxide. The dreaded rust. Check the front spring perches and give the body a good going-over.
Recalls involved the Sensatronic brake control module and a loose steering coupling.
Another big thing to keep in mind is that, as well as all that considerable performance ability, this is a luxury car with lots of features. Many of which might go wrong after all these years. These include heated seats, power door mirrors, intelligent cruise control, and the Comand infotainment system. That's on top of the usual things like brakes (this model has the self-drying function), tires, any repaired accident damage, service history, and so on.
Don't let any of these caveats stop you from looking, buying, and enjoying an E55, though. Just do some research and make absolutely sure to get an expert inspection.